“Big Story Prayers”
May 7, 2017
God’s Big Story makes a difference in every step we take.
I. Know, Walk (Colossians 1:9-10)
II. Walk, Know (Colossians 1:11-14)
We are within a couple of weeks of completing our series on God’s Big Story. We’ve come to the place where we can see how it all fits together, how the big idea of ‘my people, your God, dwell with you,’ was played out in the romance of preparation for the rescuer and the climax of his perfect life, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection, the victory of Jesus the Son. Now we live in the first of many happy endings, where the effect of this rescue is being worked out in the lives of those who believe and who have received God the Holy Spirit to dwell with us. Now, even as we wait for the final chapters, we live in the glorious reality of God’s Big Story accomplished.
How then shall we live? Today we’re going to think about the Epistles, the letters of Paul and Peter and James and John which instructed the early church and which are also instruction for us. For most of us the Christian life starts in the Epistles. We cut our spiritual teeth on Philippians, Ephesians, Romans, James and 1st Peter. We get good theology from them, we get great instruction for practical living, but what we may not get is the context of God’s big story that they were seeped in. Now we’ve been on a journey. We’ve gone away from the place we started, these short epistles, and into the bigger picture of God’s universal and everlasting purposes played out over generations. It’s my conviction that having been on this big story journey, when we come back to the place we started, these epistles, we don’t see them the same way.
Today, using a few specific verses, Colossians 1:9-14, a prayer of Paul, I want us to try to get a new perspective, closer to what the apostles were thinking when they penned their instructions and prayers. Paul, when he prayed for people, cried out to God that they would know God’s Big Story and then walk it out, that God’s Big Story would make a difference to every step that they took. And my prayer today is that God’s Big Story would make a difference to us in every step of our journey, that we would know it and then walk it out.
The outline of this prayer is going to be know and walk and know and walk and know. To illustrate this I thought of the recent movie, The Martian. I’m sure many of you know the story. Mark Watney is stranded on Mars, and surviving is not easy. At one point he has to make a major trip across the planet to get to a place where he might be rescued. But the Martian rovers don’t have near enough power. So he jury rigs a recharge system using solar panels. But he has to stop every day at sunrise and spread out these solar panels, and then at sunset he packs them up and drives some more, then stops again to recharge.
That’s the Christian life. Getting recharged by God, to a large extent by remembering God’s big story, and then walking it out. Charge and drive and charge and drive. Know and walk and know and walk and know. This is how Paul prays that his readers may live. In Colossians 1, in the first cycle, Paul prays very clearly that his readers would know and walk. Verses 9 and 10: And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
We learn several things from the lead-in to this prayer report. First, Paul is praying for Christians he’s never met personally. He writes “since the day we heard we have not stopped praying for you.” This is a church he has never visited, apparently planted by one of Paul’s converts, Epaphras, who became a Christian in Ephesus. Though he has never visited, Paul assures the Colossian Christians he is praying for them: He has added them to his prayer list, and as each report comes in of God’s work it becomes part of Paul’s intercession. This is the freedom of Big Story praying, we can pray even for people we don’t know well that they would know God’s big story and walk it out.
Notice too that Paul prays unceasingly, “we have not ceased to pray for you.” This doesn’t mean Paul never did anything else, but it’s also not an exaggeration. It means Paul prayed for them regularly during set times of prayer, and also lifted them up throughout the day. He made this prayer a priority because there are certain things all the Christians around us need again and again: we all need heart knowledge of God, his work, his rescue, his purposes, and the strength to walk it out. This is what Paul thought important enough to pray for repeatedly. His example leads us to ask if we really pray, both at set times and as ongoing conversation, and whether we pray for what’s really important.
What is it, then, that Paul again and again prays for on behalf of the Colossian believers? He tells them that he asks for one thing, because that one thing will change their lives. Paul asks God to fill believers with the knowledge of his will. “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. What does it mean to be “filled with the knowledge of his will?” We tend to use the phrase the will of God of God’s will for our decisions, for some aspect of my future in which I must make a choice. We “seek the Lord’s will’ about whom we should marry, where we will work and what college to attend. But after our long journey into God’s Big story we come home and recognize that Paul is almost certainly talking about God’s Big Will, his purpose in the world.
The fact that he wants his readers to be filled with this knowledge immediately lifts the concept above our personal plans and into God’s purposes. Paul is praying his readers will have an overflowing recognition of God’s purposes, which comes from a deep knowledge of God himself. Remember that in almost every instance of the word ‘know’ in Scripture is about more than head knowledge. The word is used for relational knowledge, as when the King James version says that Adam knew his wife. This is about a deep relationship with God that fills both our hearts and our minds. One commentator says it was “thorough knowledge, a deep and accurate comprehension,” and that “such knowledge of God's will is the foundation of all Christian character and conduct.”
This knowledge is a key focus of Paul’s prayers. In Ephesians 1 Paul prays “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” In Philippians he prays that “your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” In Ephesians 3 he prays “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Here he calls that knowledge “spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Wisdom about God’s will and his Big Picture purposes and comforts is given by the Spirit, not taken from the world. Don Carson says “Is there anything our own generation more urgently needs than this? Some of us have chased every fad, climbed on every bandwagon, adopted every gimmick, pursued every technique. Others of us have cherished every tradition, changed as little as possible, clung to what is old simply because it is old. But where are the men and women whose knowledge of God is as fresh as it is profound, whose delight in thinking God’s thoughts after him insures that their study of Scripture is never merely intellectual and self-serving, whose desire to please God wins the victory over their residual self-centeredness?” If we want to see people become like that, we need to be praying for them the way Paul does.
More than that, we should pray, as Paul does, that those who know God this way would walk it out. Know and walk and know and walk and know. Verse 10: “So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
To live a life worthy of the Lord is a high standard. It means walking as Christ would walk, imitating him in every way. We would use the word ‘worthy’ this way if we said that Aaron Rodgers was a worthy successor to Brett Favre. It’s not saying he was Brett Favre, he may have been better. But he kept the same winning tradition alive. He was a worthy successor. In the same way we begin to live a life worthy of God’s big story, of Jesus and his grace.
This is a life pleasing to the Lord, which is an awesome thought. If we believe Paul, it’s not proud but a recognition of answered prayer to say even of yourself that through the power of the indwelling Spirit my life now pleases God. We can live this way. At least Paul thought so. He says that our lives, infused with God’s story of compassion, mercy, rescue and grace can begin to pursue every good work which he has prepared in advance for us to do and to bear fruit. One way to think of this is that the fruit of the Spirit living in us and flowing from us bears fruit in the lives of others. Some may come to know God through your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Others may grow in their own faith and knowledge, their know and walk by seeing these things as you walk it out.
Carson again exhorts us: “in thought, word and deed, in action and in reaction, I must be asking myself, ‘What would Jesus have me do? What speech or conduct is a worthy of him? What would please him?’ Rightly pursued, these questions transform how we work, what we do with leisure time, how we talk with our spouses and children, what responsibilities we take on in church, what we read or watch, how we treat our neighbors, and what we do with our money.” Big story praying leads to Big Story knowledge of God but the end is Big story living. It’s know and walk. Paul ends this verse with ‘know’ again, “increasing in the knowledge of God.” It’s a lovely, positive, upward spiral.
The cycle repeats in verses 11-14, where Paul prays in more detail about what it means to walk this life, and describes in more detail the Big Story. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Verse 11 is clearly a walking it out verse. “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” Paul frequently prays that his readers will have power, and links this power explicitly in places like Ephesians 1 and Colossians 2 to the power that raised Christ from the dead. But he doesn’t pray for power to do miracles or signs.
Instead Paul prays that this great power, flowing from the infinite almightiness of God, would result in endurance and patience. The Greek words “endurance” and “patience” suggest both the kind of stamina that gets under a burden and carries it, and the kind that knows how to wait. These virtues are rare enough to be notable. National Geographic recently did a story about Jadav Payeng who, since 1979, has been planting at least a tree every day on an Indian island threatened by erosion. He’s built a forest of almost 1500 acres, bigger than New York’s Central Park. Endurance and patience enable a believer to survive with joy when persecuted, to triumph in composure and contentment when insulted and to trust God’s wise and gracious providence in suffering.
I think as a church we’re pretty good at praying for endurance and patience. Whether it is someone under financial stress or whose house has burned or whose marriage is troubled or who is chronically ill, we do pray that God would give them strength and patience to endure their situation. Paul comes at the same result, but probably from a deeper level. Paul’s prayer is that this person would have sure knowledge of God’s purposes, leading to their day-to-day honoring of God, evidenced by their endurance and patience. In praying for the fullness of God’s purpose in their lives Paul touches on all that we pray for and much more. I’ve been praying a lot for my wife, who has been gone almost three weeks now helping her parents with significant medical issues. And I can’t do better than this prayer, that she would be peacefully confident of God’s Big Story, his revelation of grace and mercy, his love and treasuring of her and of her parents, and that this knowledge would allow her to be strengthened with power from God so that she can endure and have patience with joy.
Another key behavior, right on the line between knowing and walking is found in verse 12 “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” I’ve been struck several times lately by the role of giving thanks in God’s scheme. Mostly I’m thinking of Romans 1. Paul says that God’s goodness and provision, his invisible attributes, his power and divine nature are evident in what is made. And unrighteous people are without excuse, verse 21, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” They did not give thanks for what God had done, and so their hearts became dark and they walked the path to idolatry.
We, on the other hand, are to walk out what we know by “giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” What a glorious phrase. We give thanks to a God who has become our Father by grace alone by making us who were disqualified to be qualified to be called his sons and and daughters by the work of Christ on the cross.
As those now declared to be sons and daughters we become co-heirs with the eternal son who dwells with the Father and with the bride, the community of the redeemed in eternal light. We could pursue several place in Scripture where all these themes of light and inheritance and qualification are sounded, but I’ll limit myself to just one which also shows that the Apostle Peter agrees with Paul in this. 1 Peter 2:9 “ But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Paul has now totally turned the corner back toward knowing. Know and walk and know and walk and know. Charge and drive and charge and drive and charge. Nothing charges us up more than the Big Story truths of verse 13 and 14 “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” We walk in the light of God’s Big Story, the heroic rescue of lost people from the despair and peril, the tragedy and consequence of their sin.
God has delivered or rescued or saved or liberated us from the domain of darkness. By this Paul means the domain of Satan. When Jesus encountered Paul on the Damascas Road he said that he was sending Paul “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.” So the power of Satan is equated with darkness. Darkness in Scripture is also a metaphor for sin and death. John 3 says “this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
But Jesus says “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” We were in the dominion of darkness but God rescued us and transferred us, Paul says, to the kingdom of the Son he loves. "Transferred" is a Greek word that was used to describe removing people from one country and settling them as colonists and citizens in another country. It might be rendered "reestablished." The tense of the verb – he has done this – reminds us that this "kingdom" is not only for some future time. It was for the Colossians a present reality. Nor is the kingdom a place , present or future. It is not an area that may be designated on a map; it is the sovereign rule of the Lord Christ over human hearts. It is in fact the kingdom of “the Son he loves." As we’ve explored God’s big story we paused in two different places and heard the Father say ‘this is my son whom I love.” At Jesus’ baptism and at his transfiguration. Because the Father loves the Son he has placed us in him. And in Him, verse 14, that we have redemption and forgiveness of sins. These are ours not through merit of our own but by virtue of our union with Christ.
"Redemption" a term that speaks of a release brought about by the payment of a price, was used of the deliverance of slaves from bondage or of prisoners of war from captivity. I’ve often said that on my gravestone, if I ever have one, I want the word ‘redeemed’ because I’ve been rescued from sin and death at a great price, the price of the Son’s death. I have also received forgiveness. This word literally means a sending away, the removal of our sins from us, so that they are no longer barriers that separate us from God. The central feature of redemption is the forgiveness of sins. This is God’s Big Story, that in Jesus there is redemption for slaves and forgiveness for sinners. We are the slaves, we are the sinners but now in Jesus we are the redeemed and the forgiven.
So what have we seen in this text? From the first line to the last this is a big story prayer. Paul prays that they will know God’s story, on a heart level, by faith and walk it out, because God’s story makes a difference in every step we take. And before we turn to communion I just want to give you four quick practical guidelines to walking out God’s big story. First, like Mark Watney in the Martian, you’ve got to stop and recharge. Recharge and drive and recharge and drive and recharge. Know and walk and know and walk and know.
Second, from verse 10, if you want to bear fruit from every good work, you’ve got to move into good work. Just sitting here thinking about it will not accomplish anything. The formula is recharge and drive, recharge and drive, know and walk, know and walk. Those who want to know God’s will should start off in some direction and count on him to adjust your course. Even God cannot adjust your course if you are not moving. We believe God is at work at Trinity because we are walking out the ways we’ve identified to be on mission for him. Third, also from verse 10, make every effort to please Him. As those who know God’s big story and want to walk it out, seek in God’s word and by his Holy Spirit to pursue that which pleases him. Let me give you nine very fast hints as to what pleases him, what he’d love you to walk into: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
And finally, fourth, give thanks, “giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. What a huge blessing this is. Is he not worthy of our thanks and praise? He is. And giving thanks is the borderland between knowing and doing. It is the first doing, which leads to all the others and the last doing that leads us back in to knowing. Giving thanks is like sunrise and sunset, and those who are walking out God’s Big story will make it a habit as the day breaks and as the day ends to give thanks.